Today we mark the freedom of information day, a day set aside to raise awareness about the right to freedom of information, held by the Government.
The Constitution of Kenya
The right to access to information has been recognized in Kenya’s Constitution under Article 35. The President of Kenya, Mawi Kibaki and Prime Minister, Raila Odinga have on several occasions reiterated their support for freedom of information.
Kenya is still without an access to information law despite the promises made to have one in place. In view of the role such a law will play in fighting corruption and promoting transparency, accountability and public participation the law has not received the priority it requires.
Development of Laws
Development of laws has continued being undertaken with some laws clearly including provisions that are intended to curtail freedom of information. This is unfortunate and takes the country backwards instead of forwards.
We believe that many of the provisions in place to curtail information are based on misconceptions on what the right risks for the security of the country. But we are saying that matters of national security are specific and can easily be listed down as opposed to blanket provisions that limit all information. Not all matters within the security agencies are matters of national security for instance.
If left unresolved this laws risk being declared unconstitutional, and we will not hesitate in bringing the matters to an independent Judiciary for interpretation.
Vetting and public appointment Processes
We encourage the ongoing process of making public appointments a transparent process from the short listing of candidates to the appointments process. This is a good precedence that Kenya has set and encourages public participation in the process and also builds confidence in the integrity of the process and of the candidates. The practice should continue and we are happy to note that the legislations developed have taken into account a public appointment process for sensitive public positions.
With regard to vetting, we are yet to have a framework for vetting processes. We await the vetting of magistrates and members of the national security organs. We emphasize and demand that the process of public participation must continue in the vetting exercises. The attempted vetting by the police earlier in the year was against the ideals that have been set in the constitution and should be considered null and void.
Public Bodies Systems
A year after the constitution was promulgated many public institutions are yet to be educated and trained on the implications of the constitution of Kenya in the way they do their work. A policy on how public institutions can handle requests, store their documents in an accessible manner is yet to be made available to the public.
There is need for government institutions to stock take and evaluate their compliance with constitutional provisions or risk being transgressors of the constitution.
The Government must wake up to the new reality borne by the Constitution that gives a great sense of being to transparency and accountability. Being a Constitutional right, access to information takes precedence over legislation such as the Official Secrets Act which has been used repeatedly to hold back vital public information thus fuelling a facilitative environment for corruption and impunity to thrive. Kenyans are still oblivious of the outcomes of various corruption investigations and commissions of inquiry for example the Commission of Inquiry on the irregular sale of the Grand Regency Hotel (Cockar Commission) and the Commission of Inquiry on the activities of the Artur brothers (Kiruki Commission) among others.
This would not be the case if freedom of information was the rule. Several graft scandals in the public sector could have been averted if interested parties and the public had open access to information on various processes such as budgeting, allocation and expenditure of funds, procurement of goods and services, vetting and appointment of public officers among others. Access to such information will enable citizens to receive information in the possession of any public body funded by tax-payers’ money. It is also the key that will open the door to critical information required to hold public officials accountable.
Efforts to secure the independence of the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission must be guarded jealously to ensure that the commission is not hindered from doing its investigations independently specifically by being denied material information.
The Kenya Government and media should facilitate women’s access to information, thereby contributing to promote and defend their rights and participation in public life. We also note how important access to information is towards mechanisms to monitor fulfillment of commitments to further gender equality, to demand the enhanced delivery of services targeted at women and ensuring that the public funds women are entitled to are received.
Citizens of Kenya
We urge Kenyan citizens to be vigilant towards the on going processes of appointments, development of laws and budget making processes as stakeholders in the constitutional implementation process.
Citizens of Kenya should particularly ask questions and should not shy away from demanding answers from the government on various development projects and matters of public interest.
We have also launched the yellow movement in which we will wear a yellow ribbon to signify the support for the freedom of information law in Kenya. We ask all citizens to wear it in solidarity.
Freedom of Information Network
Transparency International Kenya
Elimu Yetu Coalition
Kenya Human Rights Commission
The Institute of Social Accountability